What I’m reading, April 2013

Taking stock of books I’m currently reading, just read, or soon to start:

The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff by Jeanne de Salzmann. My Fourth Way  group undertook reading this book aloud together. De Salzmann was one of Gurdjieff’s long-time students. She wrote about his teachings in a straightforward way, making them understandable and accessible. Her heirs found her undated notes after she died at 101 and published them a couple of years ago.

The book is about waking up the Essential Self. There are many, many passages I could share, but this one is from early in the book:

Gurdjieff taught the necessity of self-observation, but this practice has been mostly misunderstood. Usually when I try to observe, there is a point from which the observation is made, and my mind projects the idea of observing, of an observer separate from the object being observed. But the idea of observing is not the observing. Seeing is not an idea. It is an act, the act of seeing…it is an experience that can take place only if there is no separation between what sees and what is seen….

Next up for my book group is Practical Work on Self, by E.J. Gold. After that, we’ll be reading Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson: All and Everything, by Gurdjieff , which will probably take us two years, accompanied by a commentary.

On my own, I’m currently reading Gurdjieff: Making a New World by J.G. Bennett, about Gurdjieff’s searches for ancient wisdom (which has me using Google Maps to get familiar with the geography mentioned — Gurdjieff traveled from the Caucasus region to Egypt, Ethiopia, Tibet, Siberia, Italy, and points between in his searches, done on foot, horseback, and by rail before 1915).

Before starting Beelzebub’s Tales, I plan to  read In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching by P.D. Ouspensky, an account of his teachings by an early student.

I’m also interested in reading J.G. Bennett’s book Enneagram Studies to learn more about Gurdjieff’s understanding of the enneagram. He used the enneagram symbol extensively, but I’m not sure how it relates to the system of understanding the fixations that keep us asleep.

It’s not hard to understand the attraction of someone who believes wellness must include body, mind, heart, and spirit to the Fourth Way of Gurdjieff. I like the format of my group: We take turns reading, engage in discussion, do exercises.

I’m interested in Gurdjieff’s teachings, but I wouldn’t call myself a follower. I’m more of an explorer seeking wisdom. By the way, although he was fluent in Turkish, Greek, Armenian, Russian, and other languages, Gurdjieff didn’t write in English, and apparently a lot of what he wrote was embellished for teaching purposes and not necessarily straightforward, so to understand his teachings, it helps to read what his students wrote.

I do think he was a remarkable man and urge anyone interested in his life and teachings to at least see the film Meetings with Remarkable Men, or read his book of the same name, an account of his search for ancient spiritual wisdom.

Another book on my nightstand is called mBraining: Using Your Multiple Brains to Do Cool Stuff, by Marvin Oka and Grant Soosalu. It includes recent findings in neuroscience about the head, heart, and gut brains and how using these multiple brains can increase intuition and wiser decision-making. The authors’ background is Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), cognitive linguistics, and behavioral modeling.

Our modern culture emphasizes the head brain. We try to think our way out of problems. Farming and civilization have been around for 12,000 years, and we are still killing each other. We are now ruining the planet we live on. In my opinion,  more intelligences are direly needed! I would surely like to have more resources, to use my multiple brains appropriately and experience less conflict, more intuition, better decisions…

So how do you tell which brain is operating? How do you know which brain is best suited for a given situation? How do you know when they’re not working together? How can you strengthen the brain you use the least? How can you ensure all three brains are in alignment for important decisions, relationships, and well-being?

Read the book and learn!

I’m in a different book group reading a book unrelated to the above books except as it applies to my quality of life. We are reading Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence to become knowledgeable and mindful about the role of money in our lives. We use a study guide (available for $5 from The Simple Living Network) developed for groups using the book to start on the path toward financial freedom. We meet seven times.

So far, I’ve added up my lifetime earnings (way more than I thought), started tracking every cent that comes in and out, started an inventory of my possessions, calculated my real hourly wage, and come up with a way to determine whether my spending is fulfilling and aligned with my values.

The authors have gotten feedback that after implementing the nine steps, people have reduced their expenses by 25 percent within 6 months and say their quality of life has gone way up. I’m finding this very helpful since I’ve transitioned from being an employee with a regular paycheck to being self-employed.

I’m also making my way through a couple of bodywork books, which I’ll write about another time.

If you’re reading this, you’re a reader. May you find books that nourish you!

I went to high school naked and people danced because I watched

Tonight at my book group, we read about the relationship between the Absolute and Creation, and it triggered the memory of a dream I had a few years back, maybe eight years ago, that I haven’t thought of for a long time.

I still think this was one of the most remarkable dreams I’ve had, and I want to share it. If you’ve ever had a dream like this, I would love to hear about it in the comments or via email. The dream just reeks of clarity.

In part 1 of the dream, I am back in high school. I am older and a high school student at the same time. I live off-campus in my own apartment. I go to class when I want to, and I actually do go to school because I want to learn.

In the dream, I don’t give a damn about the rules. Remember how many rules there were in high school? If I’m tardy, I miss out. If you want to penalize me further, that’s your stuff, not mine. I’m there to learn.

There is some problem with my schedule that I try to resolve with administrators, to no avail. I get very clear in my thinking that if people make something too difficult, that is, they let their power run away with them, I don’t have to get upset. I can just opt out or set my own course. And if people enjoy making things complicated for others, as administrators sometimes do, fuck them. (Pardon my language, but it was that kind of dream.)

I decide to blow off a class I’m supposed to be taking because somehow, taking it has gotten incredibly complicated, and I’m just not going to suffer about it. I feel confident that I’ll pick up what I need to know when I need to know it.

Also, I’m naked. I arrive at school naked, walk down the halls naked, sit in class naked, and I don’t care what anyone thinks. I don’t seem to have any clothes, and it’s not a problem. To me, anyway.

I do have long hair that keeps growing in the dream, brushing down my back as I walk. It feels pleasant, sensual.

I notice that most of the students have clothes on, and they are pretending not to notice naked me. They don’t talk to me. I probably scare them. A few other students are naked too. We see each other, recognize each other, feel a kinship, but don’t talk. I’m there for class.

Then a shift in scene occurs. I am standing outside the school looking toward a covered walkway on which a group of students are standing. They begin to move in unison, beautifully, silently. I am transfixed, watching them.

I realize that they are dancing because I’m watching, and that I’m watching because they’re dancing. The dancers and I feed each other in this way, joined into a holy union through mutual acts of attention and respect.

And that’s when the dream fades.

The first part of this dream showed me how I had changed over the course of my adult life. It showed me that I could live with a healthy attitude about learning and being myself and making decisions. Although I do wear clothes!

The second part of the dream I now understand as an invitation to explore how I use my attention and how I relate, and I have actually done that since I had this dream!

This part of the dream is like a koan. It’s about presence and awareness, and it’s not linear. This is the part of the dream that I first remembered from our reading about the Absolute and Creation and their relationship to each other.

Interestingly, dancing in unison is part of Gurdjieff’s legacy, and my book group is studying The Work too. I occasionally do ecstatic dance myself, and it is a great pleasure.

My naked self in the dream may very well represent my essential self. Or perhaps be my essential self.

Anyway, it’s totally worth sharing this dream, which still delights me years later. And now, I’m going to put my clothes back on.

Lovely sweet rain, a morning meditation, and MONEY!

I am adoring my experience of a lengthy, soaking RAIN here in drought-stricken Austin, Texas — off and on yesterday, seemingly all night, and most of this Sunday morning. I’m guessing maybe two inches of precious rain has fallen. Feels like such a blessing.

We (people, air, plants, wildlife, soil, streams, lakes, roads) need this so badly. There are cracks an inch wide in the soil under my trailer and under the dead grass. The only green grass around is under trees that got watered in an effort to keep them alive, and around the new trees I planted starting in late August. They’re drinking it up.

I love being inside my trailer in the rain. The sound of rain on the roof is divine.

And it’s Sunday. Sleeping in (well, to 8 am) to the sound of rain feels wonderfully precious. I’m undecided whether to go out to ecstatic dance, the farmer’s market, the Austin Yoga Festival, or to stay blissfully inside on this wet fall day — I have reading to catch up on, videos to watch, a cat to play with, food to cook, or maybe I’ll mix it up spontaneously.

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I just did a 35-minute meditation session. When my attention was focused, it went to body awareness and to hearing. My body awareness has deepened since I started massage school in June, of course. Understanding my hands as antennas, feeling layers of tissues down to the bone, and experiencing others touching me with various levels of connection, compassion, and presence have been quite an education.

Hearing while on the cushion a mockingbird and other birds, rain noises, traffic on wet pavement, my cat rustling in a cabinet, I notice I’m accustomed to picking out single sounds. It’s a nice stretch to take it all in, and like a symphony, to go back and forth between individual sounds and the whole cacophony, like zooming in and out with a camera, only with my sense of hearing. That reminds me, I’m leading my adventurous Fourth Way book group through the 12 states of attention on Tuesday.

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Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a workshop, Metaphors of Money, taught by Charles Faulkner, an NLP trainer, trader, writer, and researcher. Given that metaphors, conscious and unconscious, underlie our experience (the map is not the territory; a map is a metaphor for metaphors), we examined our metaphors around money.

I personify money. I like it, and I want it to like me. I know money likes me when people write checks out to me and give/mail them to me or hand me cash! Also, when I look at my bank balance and it feels good, I know money likes me. When it doesn’t feel good, I feel pressed, and I take steps to bring more in.

I noticed that as the workshop progressed, every time I heard the word “money,” its visual representation in my mind (cash, dollar sign, checks, bank balance) looked brighter and more vivid. By the end, “money” was glowing with white light!

If this workshop is offered again, you can find out by subscribing to NLP Resources Austin‘s email list. (You don’t have to be trained in NLP to participate.) They have a lot of other cool stuff coming up too.